Measure to ice union spending gains $$$, steam

There’s a lot of money piling up behind the proposed ballot measure to ban unions from using payroll-deducted funds for political purposes, including $70,000 in the past week.

In all, I see just short of $1.5 million banked by the “Californians Against Special Interests” campaign committee since the end of April – just over a million by midyear, and almost $493,000 since July 1. The Citizen Power Campaign, which had launched and then abandoned a similar measure early last year, has kicked in $225,000 for this measure, while various Lincoln Clubs have anted up more than $136,000. The biggest individual donor so far, at $200,000, is Edward Bloomfield Jr. of Manhattan Beach – I’m pretty sure that’s laundry-and-real-state mogul William Edward Bloomfield Jr., a prolific contributor to Republican candidates and causes.

The measure, according to its official summary, restricts union political fundraising by prohibiting use of payroll-deducted funds for political purposes; the same restriction would apply to payroll deductions, if any, by corporations or government contractors. It would still allow an “opt-in” – voluntary employee contributions to employer or union committees if authorized yearly in writing. Unions and corporations would be barred from contributing directly or indirectly to candidates and candidate-controlled committees, although other political spending would remain unrestricted – including corporate expenditures from available resources not limited by the payroll deduction prohibition.

The proponents have until Oct. 24 to gather valid signatures from at least 504,760 registered voters in order to put this measure on the ballot next year. If it does go on the ballot, watch the unions commit enormous resources to defeat it, maybe even enough to push it past the proposed repeal of the “Amazon tax” to become 2012’s costliest initiative battle.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Patty O’Day

    Josh, could you elaborate on this section for me?

    “Unions and corporations would be barred from contributing directly or indirectly to candidates and candidate-controlled committees, although other political spending would remain unrestricting – including corporate expenditures from available resources not limited by the payroll deduction prohibition.”

    Currently, corporations can donate to state candidates and campaigns. Does this clause mean, that they can still contribute to state campaigns, as long as they don’t use forced payroll deductions to raise the money? In other words, can the corporation still use their own cash to contribute to these candidates?

    I remember when I was in the Air Force, and also when I worked for a large corporation, we got our arms twisted into contributing to United Way, even though we did not necessarily agree with some of the people that United Way helped. I don’t think they gave to any candidates that I know of, but they did give to some organizations that I did not agree with their policies. I can’t think of an example where a corporation would do forced payroll deductions for a candidate. Can anybody think of one? Of course, unions do this all the time for Democrats.

  • Josh Richman

    I believe you’re reading that correctly, Patty. The official summary says, “Other political expenditures remain unrestricted, including corporate expenditures from available resources not limited by payroll deduction prohibition.” I think that’s why the unions feel this is unfair – it would cripple their way of raising and spending political money, while making little or no difference to that of corporations.

  • Publius

    RE #2 ” I think that’s why the unions feel this is unfair”

    Unfair is forcing people to join a union and then automatically deducting money from their wages and giving it to politicians. The worker has no say on where their hard earned money goes.

    Even more unfair- Tax dollars funding the salaries and pensions of government workers (who are forces to join a union) being deducted automatically from wages and then given to Democrat politicians who reward the unions with more tax payer dollars. A circle of corruption that is destroying Ca.

    This ballot measure does a little curb the excessive power of unions, but does not go far enough. Ca. should be a right to work state. Every individual should be able to choose if they want to join a union or make political contributions. Corperations who recieve any government contracts should be banned from contributing a dime! Ca. will recover only when our politicians stop pandering to special interest and do what is best for the State.

  • Patty O’Day

    Poor unions. They force employees to join the unions. They force employees to pay union dues. Then they use the dues to “influence” candidates (at least 90% of which are Democrats).

    Some unions allow their members to “opt out” of having their dues used for candidates that they don’t approve of, but very few unions do that. Those that do make it very difficult for the members to opt out. The paperwork and hoops the members have to go through are very cumbersome, and then the word gets out that those that have “opted out” aren’t “team players” so those members get harrassed and hastled all the time.

    There are lots and lots of Republican union members that are disenfranchised by these practices. It has been unfair for all these years. So I don’t feel sorry for the unions.

    I think corporations should be allowed to use their own money to donate to whoever they want. I think the unions should also be allowed to donate to whoever they want, but I don’t think they should be allowed to force their members to pay for it if they don’t want to. I have no problem with them having a program where they can “opt in” to contribute to candidates of their liking, whether Republican or Democrat.

    I think I will try to help to get signatures for this
    petition. Oh, wait, I can’t go to Safeway to do it. Hmmm. You don’t think that the unionized Safeway has changed their policy on signature gatherers to thwart this initiative from getting on the ballot, do you?

  • Josh Richman

    I don’t see why Safeway’s management would be in a hurry to shore up unions’ power, especially given that Northern California master grocery contracts expire Oct. 8. I think the company just had a proliferation of problems with signature gatherers refusing to abide by rules that other nonprofits observe, and this is its way of pushing back.

  • Sara and Meg WHO ???!!!

    Why is this thinking currently limited to unions ?

    Let’s eliminate ALL of the special interests – or let’s leave them ALL alone. Anything less is pretty blatant politicking.

    Union members may have little/no influence over how their leaders may choose to invest their resources. As a shareholder in a publically traded company I have equally little say in how that company might spend its lobbying resources.

    Prospective employees dont have to go to work for a unionized shop – and I dont have to buy a given co’s stock . . . .

    My point is simply that there are many forms of “special interest” – singling out unions as the singular bad boy of the group is just more politics as usual.

  • John W

    Patty O’Day is right. No corporation I know of (and I’ve worked for several) had payroll deduction for political. I doubt that would even be legal. Those of us in management were strongly encouraged to contribute to a PAC, which made contributions to any politician of any party who would be in position to influence legislation of interest to the company. Whether you were a D, R or I, some money was going to people you didn’t personally support. By the way, during the last Presidential campaign, people would often say that such and such a Wall Street company contributed hundreds of thousands to Obama or McCain. Not true. Those contributions were made by individuals, who are required by law to state the name of their employer. In any given company, there were contributors to both candidates. I contributed max to Obama, but he certainly wasn’t the candidate of choice of my employer’s top execs.

  • John W

    This measure looks similar to one that was proposed by Arnold during the early part of his first term, and was soundly defeated; although I voted for it. Public employee unions are a bastardization of the collective bargaining process. It’s more like “collusive bargaining” between the unions and elected officials whose jobs depend on those unions. That’s why FDR opposed public employee unions. It corrupts the system. My understanding is that teachers contribute about $100 per month to the union. Can anybody confirm that? If that’s accurate, that’s 300,000 teachers statewide with payroll deducted dues of about $1,000 each per year. That’s $300 million in dues from taxpayer paid salaries. That’s a bunch of taxpayer-funded political clout.

  • Patty O’Day

    #8 – Now John W gave me another question for Josh.

    The measure that John W is talking about only affected state government union members as I remember. It seems to me that this new measure would affect ALL union members, government or not. Is this correct?

    If so, in this very important distinction, it would be very different and much farther reaching than the one that Arnold proposed a few years ago.

    Boy, do I remember that process! Everywhere Arnold went the Teacher’s union and the Nurses union were dogging him. It was fun for us political activists to show up to counter protest them when they showed up at Arnold’s fundraisers.

    I remember being in San Ramon I think, the day before the election. Arnold was speaking at some restaurant. The unions were out in huge numbers. But so were Arnold’s supporters. All the TV stations were there. Unions on one side of the road, us on the other. But nothing was really going on. Pretty quiet crowd. The media did not like that.

    Then I decided to be a wise guy and I shouted out something. (I don’t remember what it was but it got the ball rolling.) The TV cameramen swarmed on me. They wanted statements, etc. (And of course, I obliged them.) It was quite funny.

    Then the union thugs crossed the street and started swarming around me as well. Some of these union guys were huge firefighters and I think the prison guards. So, they surrounded me and were mouthing off. So was I. One quite large guy, told me he was going to “kick my ass”.

    By that time I had gotten some big male reinforcements from our side. Also, the police showed up and put up yellow police tape between us and posted a couple cops in the “hot spot”. After that I no longer felt physically threatened, but the verbal mouthing off continued for the rest of the day. Like I said, lots of fun.

    Apparently the teacher’s union had to mortgage their office building to raise money to fight this measure. I suppose so. Renting all those busses to take the union guys to protests had to cost some serious cash. The union thugs always showed up at the same time, and always left at the same time – obviously the bus was leaving and the “strike pay” was over, so they all left. Ha Ha. Not to mention the 2 airplaines they had flying over the San Ramon restaurant with banners flying off their planes. What a waste of money.

  • Josh Richman

    Correct, Patty: This measure would affect ALL labor unions, not just those serving public workers.

  • Publius


    The reason unions are targeted is that the employee’s free choice is taken away by our States closed shop rules. In most cases if you want to get a job at unionized shop you have to join the union ,you do not have the freedom to chose. In most cases if you are in a union your pay check is automatically garnished for politiical contributions. Once again the employees right to chose is infringed. As a tax payer my hard earned money is being taken against my will to be used to fill the coffers of Democrats nationwide, I have no choice in the matter. Organized labor and above all government unions restrict freedom and inevitably corrupt a democratic government- See the State of California as an example of unions gone wild.

    I agree with #6 that special interest have a corrupting influence, but to limit all would be an infringement on one’s right to chose to support a politician that he or she agrees with. What seperates the unions is that no other special interest can automatically deduct money from someones check for political contributions with out the employees prior consent.

  • Sara and Meg WHO ??!!

    #11 –

    Well – to say that a union members “choice” is “taken away” – is similar to saying that a shareholder in a publically traded company has no say in how the company chooses to spend their lobbyist budgets. IN either case, the “choice” involves a personal divestiture; you can “leave” the company or “sell” your shares . . . or not invest in either one. In both cases – the notion that you have no choice feels similar to my way of thinking.

    For this reason, singling out the unions is clearly a one-sided political aim.

    Dont get me wrong, I agree that these unions are robbing the public coffers blindly, but, to argue that they hold some uniquely offensive claim to infringing the public trust/good or the trust of their membership (or shareholders) is just more good ol’ political nonesense, the rationalization of which was intended for sound-bite level reasoning.

  • Elwood

    “you can “leave” the company or “sell” your shares”

    But if you’re working in a union shop you don’t have that choice. You have to join the union. You can opt out of any political contributions, which is no more complicated than performing brain surgery on yourself, and be treated as a pariah by your fellow workers.

  • Patty O’Day

    #12 – In addition to what Elwood said, quitting your job because you don’t want to be forced to pay union dues that are used against your will for candidates that you don’t support is a whole lot different from selling a stock because you don’t like the political donations that company is making.

    Your job is your livelihood. How can you pay your rent or put food in your kids mouths if you quit your job because of your political beliefs?

    These two things are not equally offensive. Forcing employees to pay these union dues that are used for political donations for candidates that the employee does not support is far, far worse.

  • Josh Richman

    Patty: Nobody is forced – California law requires unions to let members opt out of paying the portion of their dues that goes to political action, upon joining the union or any time after they have already joined.

    Elwood: I can only speak for myself, I guess, in terms of the difficulty of doing so (easy as checking a box on a form) or the potential stigmatization that might accompany doing so (none, though I could see how that might be different with a public workers’ union).

  • Sara and Meg WHO ???!!!

    A majority of unionized employees understand what union they will be required to join when they accept a given position. Far more rare is the occassion where an individual is employed and *then* is asked to join a union. So, given the opportunities to “opt out” – I stand by my original point. . .. if we’re going to forgo political contributions, let’s do so for ALL interests. Anything significantly less is pure political hyperbole.

  • Publius

    The problem goes deeper than a voluntary opt out box that you can check when you are initially forced to join a union (some join willing ofcourse). Union members aren’t stupid and they know that the money that comes out of their check for political contributions relates directly to their wage. The over market wages most union members receive more than compensates for the money that is taken out. Other than integrity or principle there is no other reason for a member to opt out. Cash is king and sadly trumps principle. To unions (private and public) the government is a cash cow that can milked. To government unions are a dependent voting base that will always return to the tax payer teet. The problem is so prevalent in Ca. The sheer mass of people that benefit from this unholy relationship has all but made it impossible to reverse. Who is going to vote themselves a pay decrease? This measure is a good start to curb the power of unions but falls way short of what is needed.

    “ecrasez l’infame”


  • Sara and Meg WHO ???!!

    Here’s the million dollar question folks – – why isn’t your position one of wanting to legislate ALL special interests out of existance ?

    Why JUST unions ?

    If we scrutinized the rest, we can find all kinds of misuses and injustices as well; the main problem is their overbearing influence of our political system – right ???? So, let’s get rid of ALL of them. Anything less is just more political divisiveness.

  • bbox231

    “..when you are initially forced to join a union . . . ”

    No one “forces” anyone to take a job w/a given shop/employer just as no one is “forced” to purchase a given stock issue. Further, this broad generalization of high priced union labor is seriously out of touch with realities.

    As a group, only the two safety unions exhibit data that could be considered anywhere near “over market”.

    Private sector unionized employees are becoming increasingly rare as employers migrate to various alternatives to regular full-time employment and, where they do still exist, total comp incomes of all private sector employees, unionized or otherwise, have been eroded on a consistant basis for many, many years now.

    Teachers are, for the most part, at the bottom of the earnings heap.

  • Publius

    #18 If I want to be a Firefighter, COP, or teach at a public school I have to join a union. There is no choice. If I want to get a job at my local Safeway I have to join a union. As a contractor if I want to work on a public job most likely I would have to be a union contractor. Measure C, the $336 million Mt. Diablo school construction bond is for union contractors ONLY. Not only is this preferential treatment legislated by our supervisors it was written into the BOND. Measure C is a perfect example of a private union milking the government. Name another special interest, besides the green movement, that receives more public funds than organized labor. Like I said in my first post any company receiving public funds should be banned from giving any contributions.

    #19 See above on the many ways organized labor forces people to join voluntarily. As for wages. Public teachers make more than private teachers. Construction union members make more than non-union members. You cannot compare cops, fire fighters and prison gaurd wages to non-union wages because they have to be union. Your data is wrong. Did you know that on any government funded job the tax payers pay approximately 30% more than what the private sector would pay. The main reason for this disparity is the Davis-Bacon act requiring prevailing wage rates to be paid that are based on union salaries.

  • Patty O’Day

    And many of the unions fight dirty. I have a friend that used to be an inspector for the CALOSHA. They regularly got complaints (that CALOSHA) was required to investigate about unsafe roofing practices on various building jobs. Invariably, when the inspector arrived, he seldom if ever found any safety violations, and in every case, the complaints had been filed against a non union roofing company.

    Also, to Publius’s point, several cities around here use only union members for all their contracts. I think these are called PLA’s. (Unsure what that stands for, but the L is for Labor). This means they are not competitive in that only union contractors can bid on contracts. Not only does this raise the costs to the cities, but it is unfair.

  • Elwood

    PLA = Project Labor Agreement

    Usually stipulates that client will pay prevailing wages (union scale) and pay into trust funds for pensions, health care, apprenticeship etc. which pretty much guarantees that the work will only go to union contractors.

    The other side of the coin is that client gets a qualified work force and the agreement stipulates that there will be no strikes, jurisdictional disputes or work stoppages for any reason

  • Publius


    PLA stands for Project Labor Agreement. These egregious agreements force contractors to join the union if they want to do a project. There are PLA’s on public and private work. Though public works require every contractor to pay the prevailing wage amount the PLA automatically dismisses %80 of the bidders from the bidding process and therefor drives the price up an additional 15%. The $336 million dollar Measure C wasted over $50 million dollars by signing a PLA. The National University just concluded a study proving the waste caused by the PLA. This study was validated by USC. Our politicians are stilling giving away our money to gain union support. Josh, there are plenty of examples in Contra Costa of the unions use of the PLA and subsequent “Green Mail” to transfer tax dollars into thier coffers. I think this deserves to be reported.

  • Rick K.

    Thanks, Publius, for sharing the story of more taxpayer money wasted by Mt. Diablo Unified School District (which is Supt. Tom Torlakson’s beloved “pet” school district). I found a primer about Measure C at http://ballotpedia.org The tale of Measure C gets more sordid with every passing month. It was irresponsible of the school board to approve a 40-year bond to begin with because the amount of interest payments. Too many citizens (including most Democrats) have a knee-jerk reaction to vote for most tax increases related to education. It’s long been obvious to most thoughtful citizens that teachers unions exert disproportionate efforts to effect certain school board members, but most people haven’t thought about the influence exerted by construction trades unions, which seek those egregious PLA’s. How kind of the Mt. Diablo school board to reward their union friends today while passing the buck literally to the next two generations (with the bonds finally being paid off in the 2050s). And Supt. Tom Torlakson holds Mt. Diablo Unified School District up as some model of responsible governance? Instead of handing out those giant ceremonial checks, maybe it’s time for Supt. Torlakson to publicly hold those morons accountable. The board members who recommended Measure C to voters in 2010 ought to fired and “pilloried.”

  • Elwood

    I’ve voted for school bonds in the past.

    No mas!

    I’ve seen too much money ****ed away on foolish projects by idiotic school boards and administrators.